Reader Review by ljreese3
Author Lisa See demonstrates a skillful ability to carry readers away with her thoughtful prose and fascinating storylines. Her New York Times bestsellers include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls.
Her latest novel, Dreams of Joy, explores the theme of love: A mother’s love, a daughter’s love, romantic love, and love of country. Dreams of Joy follows the lives of sisters Pearl and May, as well as Pearl’s nineteen year-old daughter, Joy. Although this book is a sequel to Shanghai Girls, it can be read as a stand-alone novel.
Told in alternating first person accounts from Pearl and Joy, the story begins with a furious and heartbroken Joy leaving her Los Angeles home after hurtful family secrets are revealed. On impulse, she flees to Shanghai to find her birth father, the artist Z.G. Li. Upon arrival, Joy must surrender her passport and money; undeterred, she immerses herself in 1957’s Red China and Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward. She is enthralled with communist ideals and the grandiose propaganda of the new regime.
Fearful for her daughter’s life, Pearl follows Joy to China. She puts her own safety aside, takes a menial job as a paper collector in Shanghai, and must live with feuding strangers while she searches for Joy and hopes for reconciliation.
Meanwhile, Joy finds her father, Z.G., who, despite his shock and initial reluctance, takes her in. Joy accompanies Z.G. on a journey to Green Dragon village, a commune in the far reaches of the country, where she meets and falls in love with a young man named Tao.
The novel is harrowing and fascinating, filled with facts: Maoists believed bras were oppressive and confiscated them. Chinese scientists signed confessions that Chinese moon was larger than the American moon. Chinese citizens—even highly skilled educators and scientists—were made to farm six days a week, only to have government leaders confiscate the harvest. Metal pots, pans, and silverware were collected and melted in local furnaces, leaving citizens with no means to cook. Across the county, people were reported for not being “red” enough and were subjected to public humiliation and harsh punishment. Suicide became so rampant in large cities that netting was placed around the windows to prevent people from jumping to their deaths. By the end of the Great Leap Forward’s second winter, entire communities died of starvation.
The author offers readers a distinct, emotional glimpse of this brutal time in China’s history. Though parts of the novel were difficult to read, and Joy was often frustratingly naive, Dreams of Joy is a treasure trove of information about China’s culture and people. Learn more at www.lisasee.com.
Print Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Random House (May 31, 2011)